It can be a bit confusing understanding all the required documents and procedures involved with signing up for, and actually taking a space available flight. I have met a few people in my Space A travels that I would consider to be gurus. I won’t consider myself at their level, but after having flown Space A quite a few times in the past year, I would like to offer the info I’ve gathered to those trying to get it all straight.
What is Space Available (Space A)?
Space available is quite literally the space that is available on military flights after the cargo and space required passengers have been accounted for. Depending on the amount and type (Space A passengers are not allowed to fly with some types of cargo) of cargo, and the number of space required passengers the plane will be carrying, a number of seats (the remaining space) will be released for Space A passengers.
Each aircraft has a different maximum number of seats it can offer. These seats can range from actual commercial-type airline seats that you are most used to, to jump seats that fold down from the aircraft wall. Seats are often released around 5 hours prior to the roll call time, but can change up until departure. When upcoming flight information is released the available seats will be shown in three different formats.
TBD = To Be Determined, this means the cargo and space required passengers has not been finalized, and the crew is unable to determine how much extra space they will have at that moment.
T = Tentative, this is the amount of available space the crew thinks they will have once the cargo and space required passengers are accounted for. This number can change as the plane is loaded, or changes are made during the process before departure.
F = Firm, this means the crew has determined with as much accuracy as possible the amount of seats available for the flight. While the number can still change, it is usually the actual number the flight will accept.
There are times when a flight will not accept Space A passengers. This may be due to the type of cargo the flight is carrying, the port of entry customs availability, the time the crew plans to be on the ground (sometimes it is too short to accommodate a roll call and boarding procedure), and the crew’s personal choice to accept passengers.
Where to Find Flight Information
The most accurate flight information will always be found at the terminal itself, or by calling the terminal. The staff working the terminal not only has access to the system that generates the flight information, but they are also generally in some form of contact with the crew and will be able to give you the most up to date information regarding roll call times and potential seats. It is not a bad idea to call more than once as you prepare to compete for a roll call as things change constantly. It’s much easier to make a phone call than to show up only to find the roll call has been moved back by a day.
Another semi-reliable place for flight information is the terminal Facebook pages. It’s a good idea to follow their pages and check often for updates. Some terminals are better than others at keep the information updated frequently. These Facebook pages are also a great way to gauge what categories are getting to fly, recent and common destinations for flights, and terminal specific information.
*One thing to keep in mind when you are looking at the available flights is the availability of customs officials in the port of entry into a country. There are often flights from overseas to the states with a port of entry stop at a base or post that does not have a customs official available to process space available passengers. If this is the case you will not be able to fly on that flight. It’s always a good idea to call the terminal and make sure this will not be an issue.
Space A passengers are prioritized by their category. Those in a lower category will receive the available seats before those in a higher category. Within the categories, those who signed up on the earliest date will be given priority.
Category I: Unfunded emergency leave
Category II: Sponsors on environmental and morale leave (EML) and accompanied family members.
Category III: Active duty on ordinary leave or personal house hunting, permissive TDY, or TAD orders, and accompanied family members.
Category IV: Unaccompanied family members traveling on EML orders.
Category V: Unaccompanied Command-sponsored dependents, and active duty traveling on permissive TDY orders for something other than house hunting.
Category VI: Retirees and dependents of retirees accompanied by a sponsor.
How to Sign Up and Required Documents
To sign up for Space A you can call, fax, email or send snail mail to the terminal. The contact information can be found on the terminal’s Facebook page. You will need to include the following information, and for some terminals, copies of the required documents (check with the terminal about this). If you email your information, be sure to save a copy of the email or keep it accessible on your phone. If for some reason the staff cannot find you in the system they will honor the date and time shown on your email for the roll call.
Dependents may sign up at any time, and their sign up will remain active for 90 days or until their sign up dates have passed. Active Duty is required to be on leave before they can sign up.
Passport Number/Exp Date:
Branch of Service:
Travel Status (Category):
Type of Travel:
Dependents Names/ Passport Number/Exp Date: Expiration Date:
Final Destination Address:
Command Sponsorship Letter;
EML Paperwork (if applicable)
Roll Call and Departure Time
Actual departure times are never released by the terminal until you are present and accounted for in the roll call, and sometimes not until you are informed by the crew once you are boarded on the flight. As a general rule most flights leave sometime around 2.5 hours from the roll call time, however this changes with every flight.
To participate in a roll call you will need to arrive at the terminal prior to the roll call time and mark yourself present. This lets the staff know you are actually at the terminal and ready to compete for the seats. People are able to sign up for Space A through emails, stopping by the terminal, faxes, and even snail mail. These sign ups can also include a range of dates for departure. For these reasons, your sign up will basically only get you in the system, you will not be considered for the roll call until you mark yourself present.
When the roll call begins the staff will announce how many seats are available and will begin calling the names of the parties that have been selected for those seats. This is done by in the order of the ranking list determined by the categories and sign up times. The selected parties will then check in, turning in their luggage and receiving their boarding passes. At this time you will often be given a time to return for customs checks and boarding.
What to Expect, Pack, and Wear on the Plane
One of the greatest benefits to flying Space A, besides the price tag, is the laid back atmosphere of it all. Outside of the Patriot Express which is very similar to normal commercial flights, most Space A flights are casual and operated by an informal crew. It’s a refreshing break from the stress-filled pre-departure chaos of traveling commercially.
If the aircraft has normal commercial-type seating, it will generally be more temperature controlled, so wearing what you would normally wear to fly should be sufficient. Some of those planes can be a little cool, so a jacket or sweater is a good idea. The planes also often offer blankets.
Other aircraft such as C-17’s are generally pretty chilly once they are in the air. There are usually blankets available, but it is not uncommon for passengers to bring extra blankets and sleeping bags on the flight. These planes feature jump seats that fold down from the wall, and providing there is room, during the flight you have the ability to spread out, move around, and lay down to sleep if you would like. I typically bring my small camping pad, a sleeping bag, and a pillow. This is a great way to fly with young children as they have the freedom to move during the flight.
A seat on the Patriot Express will include meals and beverages that are served in the same manor as commercial flights. On the other planes you will be given an option at check in to purchase a meal for the flight (If you aren’t offered a meal, ask! Sometimes they forget to offer!). Meals are usually $5.55 to be paid in cash at check in.
Outside of these meals and water coolers on some planes, your options will be very limited. Most of the terminals do not have food options, and you cannot always depend on having enough time to get food if they do. It’s always a good idea to pack plenty of snacks.
Keep In Mind
It’s very important to keep in mind that space available travel is a privilege. It requires flexibility and patience, sometimes more so than you can ever imagine. It is also not a dependable form of travel. Flights can be changed, postponed, and cancelled at any minute depending on the mission.
If you are traveling to a destination beyond the final destination of the Space A flight, and need to book additional commercial travel, wait to book it until you are on the Space A flight, or have arrived at the Space A flight’s final destination. Many people give themselves a day between their scheduled Space A flight arrival time, and their commercial flight departure.
Be prepared to have to buy a commercial ticket in the case Space A travel does not work out. Sometimes flights are cancelled for the foreseeable future. Sometimes they are postponed for multiple days. Sometimes planes break down with indeterminable repair times. Unless you are a dependent or retiree with local lodging and resources, you may not have another option besides buying a commercial ticket in order to reach your final destination.